Paying attention to detail is difficult at the best of times. Now we all have the added mental distractions of uncertainty and worry, plus the physical distractions of either working from home or in abnormal workplaces. This article sets out to share some practical tips to help you concentrate and to pay attention to detail, even in difficult circumstances.
Now more than ever, we need to work accurately because mistakes don’t just waste time, they also add to our stress levels and impact other people too. And for some, accuracy skills are imperative right now. Whether you’re picking and packing an urgent online order, have the difficult task of furloughing staff, or you’re developing testing facilities in a laboratory, accuracy is essential.
What factors impact our accuracy?
Three core factors influence our accuracy skills. These are:
- Ability to concentrate
- Getting enough sleep
- Use of practical accuracy techniques
Ability to concentrate
Our ability to concentrate and pay attention to detail is affected by our physical and mental wellbeing, both of which are likely to be suffering during the current emergency.
It’s important that we ensure our environment is inducive to concentration. If you’re sitting at a desk or kitchen table, make sure your seat, computer keyboard and monitor are positioned correctly to avoid body strain. And if you’re a key worker required to be away from home, don’t neglect your physical comfort – repetitive strain injury won’t make things any easier!
It’s likely you’re encountering quite a few distractions but try to keep these to a minimum, or at least restrict them to certain times of the day, so people know when they can interrupt you and when you need to be left alone to concentrate on vital tasks.
Take regular short, structured breaks. These will enhance your concentration and help you to ‘reset your mind’ before going back to your work. You can’t focus for hours on end so don’t even try. Give yourself regular breaks. Get up and walk around, get some fresh air and try structured activities and breathing exercises to boost your oxygen levels and accuracy skills. For ideas, take a look at the Scott Bradbury downloadable ErgoBreak activities.
One other tip: focus on one task at a time. It’s impossible to ‘multitask’ because when we think we’re doing several things at once, what’s actually happening is that your brain is flitting from one task to another without concentrating on any of them. Identify priorities and work through them one at a time. You get more done, feel less stressed and increase your chances of getting it right first time.
Getting enough sleep
A good night’s sleep is a big boost to accuracy. When your brain is properly rested it’s better able to work quickly and accurately.
But sleep can be difficult if you’re stressed and lying awake worrying. Establishing a good wind-down routine at the end of your day, away from your computer screen and smartphone, is helpful in getting you off to sleep. Consider using music for relaxation and/or gentle stretching exercises followed by a warm bath to allow your brain to be ‘in the moment’ and to be calm. Divert your thinking away from your worries and focus on thinking positive thoughts.
Mindset is important. Focusing on what you can do and on where you can have a positive influence will give you a sense of purpose and a feeling of accomplishment. Worrying about things you can’t control is an unhelpful distraction, which not only damages your concentration levels but also leads to wakefulness in the middle of the night!
Use of practical accuracy techniques
Until they experience our accuracy skills training, most people are unaware that there are practical techniques which measurably improve levels of accuracy and attention to detail. They are simple techniques which work for everyone when consistently applied.
There are different techniques for reading, checking and transferring different types of data – for example, long strings of digits, alphanumerics, grouped or ‘clustered’ data as well, as words, dates, references and amounts of money. There are some basic principles too. Here are three of them:
- Look for the mistake
Our brains see what they expect to see and it’s easy to overlook errors. But if you proactively look for the mistake and say to yourself, ‘there is a mistake here somewhere and I’m going to find it’ you will find errors that would otherwise go unnoticed until it was too late. If you adopt a ‘present-minded’ approach to your work, and are alert to the possibility of error, you’ll spot the potholes before you fall into them.
- Use a structured checking approach
When you check your own work (or that of others), it’s best to use a specific structure rather than adopt a ‘just checking’ mindset. If you simply read through the work, you may not notice all the errors. A structured approach, where you focus on certain elements in a particular order, enables you to see the work in a new way and therefore identify problems. For example, begin by examining the essential parts of the work – dates, names, amounts, headings – anything which is fundamental to the success of the document or item you are checking. Next, ask yourself whether the work is effective – does it convey or achieve what was intended? Finally, check whether the work is exemplary. Does it look professional? Are the grammar and spelling correct?
Use of this ‘three Es’ (Essential, Effective, Exemplary) structured approach, combined with a ‘present-minded’ mindset, will improve your accuracy and attention to detail.
- Practise practical accuracy techniques
As with everything else, practice makes perfect! Once you’ve learned accuracy techniques it’s important to use them regularly so that they become second nature. They are very easy to learn and even easier to apply – it just takes a little practice.
It’s not possible to set out all the techniques here - participants in our workshops take two half-day sessions to learn and practise the range of techniques - so we’ve arranged the next best thing for you: free monthly fun tests sent directly to you each month, plus a bonus bundle of Wellbeing and Resilience challenges published especially to inform and entertain you during the coronavirus lockdown period. Put your accuracy skills to the test in a fun, light-hearted way!
Subscribe to free monthly tests
Subscribe to receive two new tests each month – one testing your data accuracy skills and another testing your accurate written communication. Subscribe for free here.
Download the free new bundle of 5 tests now
Error Watch - binge watching for error!
Mistakes Too Close to Home - domestic distractions
Comedy of Errors - for light-hearted relief
Positive Thoughts, Negative Errors - for a happy, error-free mindset
Confine Your Errors to History - an accuracy twist on the past
Catherine de Salvo
16 April 2020
Accuracy Asides is the name of our accuracy blog
You get to hear about our latest accuracy course results, the real-life 'bloomers' which come to our attention and all the latest news and juicy gossip about errors! We share accuracy tips and advice too.
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